Starting a business that relies on warehousing can be tough, especially if you don't have much past experience in warehouse management. If you want to serve your customers quickly and efficiently, you'll need a good system of organization in place. But with potentially thousands of items to keep track of, dozens of people to hire, and entire systems to build from the ground up, how are you supposed to do it?
How to Keep a New Warehouse Organized
Every warehouse is going to work a bit differently, and you'll be able to exercise full control over how you want your business to run. That said, there are some standard tips that almost any entrepreneur can use to make their warehouse cleaner, safer, and more efficient through better organizational practices:
1. Create a "master" organizational structure. Where are you going to keep each category of item? How are those categories going to be defined? The more intuitive this system is, the better -- but it's even more important to keep this system consistent, so your employees will always know where things are located.
2. Make use of 3-D space. While planning your warehouse, you'll naturally think in terms of horizontal space, but it's also important to take advantage of vertical space. Stacking items and making full use of your 3-D space will make for less wasted space and allow you to store more.
3. Remove clutter regularly. Over time, warehouses accumulate clutter in the same way homes do. Unattended equipment, discarded waste, and other items can get in the way of your warehouse operating efficiently, and completely disrupt your organizational system. Make it a point to clear out clutter at the end of each day.
4. Pack properly. Packing items into storage areas can impact your efficiency in multiple ways. Packing "wrong" can force items to take up more space and cost more employee time. Try to pack tightly and consistently, wherever you're storing items.
5. Label consistently and keep labels out. According to Energy Electronics, "When some items can't be scanned during an inventory check, they need to be counted and added to your system manually. In the best case, this takes extra time, but you'll get an accurate count. In the worst case, the item without a barcode ends up uncounted at all. This negatively affects your stock take results." Every item in your warehouse should be labeled clearly with a scannable barcode, and those labels should face out at all times to make them easy to scan.
6. Rotate positions for seasonal demand. While consistency in the layout of your warehouse is important, it may also be a good idea to temporarily rotate or change those positions to accommodate for seasonal demand. Of course, not every warehouse will need to do this.
7. Optimize for walking time. Your organizational structures should consider walking time for employees. Group items and store them in accessible places to reduce the time it takes to store items, pick up orders, and complete counts.
8. Automate whatever you can. Technology can make a huge difference in the efficiency and operational capacity of your warehouse. Try to automate everything you can, from processing returns to handling deliveries.
9. Train your employees well. Your organizational system is only as good as the employees in charge of maintaining it. If you train your employees well, they'll follow the rules confidently, adhere to your organizational system, and even volunteer new ideas of their own to improve the efficiency of the organization. Otherwise, your employees will be inconsistent at best -- and possibly work in an unsafe way.
10. Prioritize worker safety. In line with this, it's vital for your business to prioritize worker safety. Make sure to train employees properly on safety standards, include posted warnings when necessary, and make it easy to complete potentially risky actions (like climbing to the top shelf) safely.
11. Track everything. You'll need to count items regularly, at least a few times per month, and keep tabs on employee movement and productivity. The more you track, the better you can pinpoint errors, organizational weaknesses, and general inefficiencies.
12. Be ready and willing to adapt. The only way to overcome those weaknesses and move toward becoming a more productive, better-organized warehouse is to adapt. Be ready and willing to make changes to improve your warehouse's "first draft."
Perfecting Your Warehouse
You're not going to master the art of warehouse management in your first attempt. Pay attention to efficiency metrics, collect feedback from your employees, and talk to other warehouse owners to get ideas about what you're doing wrong -- and what steps you can take to improve your work.